Thursday, April 26, 2007

Milking Sheep

In early March my sister broke her leg from a bad horseback riding accident. She ended up having surgery and was off work for a long time (yesterday was her first day back). Since she is usually very active being virtually bedridden for the first four weeks was driving her nuts. When she was able to move about a bit, she still couldn't do a lot but at least she wasn't shackled to the bed anymore.

In trying to find things to do she's been hobbling about her house on her crutches, or scooting on her butt with her leg sticking straight out while she weeds the flower beds, but mainly she's been housebound and bored. She decided to start baking bread. But then remembered she'd have to eat it, and with her forced inactivity that would only lead to way too many unwanted extra pounds.

She asked if I ever milked my cow. I had tried it once but she's not trained for it and wasn't happy about it. I got about a half a cup of milk and decided it was easier to buy it at the store. My sister had decided to try to make cheese. Don't ask me what made her think of doing that, but I like it!

She did a little research on the internet and found a few simple recipes. I did some shopping at the health food store where I found some milk that wasn't ultra-pasteurized and some liquid rennet.

The next day she had some "lemon cheese". It was a bit bland, but I could see it spiced up with herbs or even some spicy peppers. It had a texture similar to a spread cheese like Alouette or Boursin.

Meanwhile she has also been researching dairy goats. Now we're talking! This is something I can get into. More animals!

The LaMancha was different, with little or no ears, and the while the Golden Guernsey is a very pretty red-haired goat it is extremely rare and almost impossible to find outside of Great Britain. The Alpine breeds probably wouldn't do so well in our summer heat. The logical choice was a Nubian or Nigerian Dwarf.

All right! I asked her how soon could we get one? I would even be willing to go in halves with her. We'll get a buck and breed to my cashmere doe. We could practice the milking on her. Slow down, she said. She wanted to be able to take care of it first. Let her leg heal up and then we'll talk more about getting an actual goat.

Last week she ordered a cheese making kit. She made mozzarella! It was delicious.

what's left of the mozzarella, until after the picture was taken

Now I got to thinking. Hmmm. What about sheep milk? Don't they have dairy sheep? Of course there are. That's how they get sheep cheese. Well, now. I happen to have two sheep that are still producing milk for their babies.

The grand idea came to me: MILK MY SHEEP!

I had to get some grain and chicken food anyway, so while at the feed store I bought a nice 4 quart stainless steel pail. I could hardly wait to get home.

I got Jaime Lee out of the pen and led her to the shearing stand. I bribed her with some grain and she climbed up. I grabbed a hold of one of her teats and started trying to milk her. It's not that easy. Finally I started getting a little stream. It was hard to keep any kind of rhythm going because my fingers kept slipping off. I got a tiny bit of milk in the bottom of the pail as well as on my shirt, the ground, etc. Finally it looked like I had more than a tablespoon so I decided not to torture Jamie any longer. She was being very good about my clumsiness.

Jamie's milk in the bottom of the pail, along with some debris (no biggie)

I took her off the stand and gave her another handful of grain. I let all the sheep out at that point so they could be reunited and relax while they nibbled the grass. Then I ran inside to measure what I got.

It turns out it was a grand total of 1/4 cup of milk! And even though I tried to keep it clean somehow little specks of dirt or hay (no doubt from her belly) had fallen in. No matter. I strained it through a paper towel into a little plastic bag and put it in the freezer. I figure it's like when you grow your own fruit or veggies. It doesn't matter if it's got a bruise or bird peck mark in it. At this rate I'll have enough milk to make a half pound of cheese in, what, say about three months?

1/4 cup of milk for our efforts!

I could spend $180 + on an Udderly EZ milker but I'm not ready for that yet. I'd rather get a goat first.

So either we need to get a goat (bigger teats would make it easier) or I'll have to train Ladysmith to let me milk her.

Meanwhile... Oh Ewenice! You're next!

Hurry up and get well m.t.!!! We have THINGS TO DO!

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